07 September 2011

Libertarians and liberals

Libertarian blog The Crossed Pond asks why liberals don't view libertarians as potential allies. My response:

Thing is, nobody outside the libertarian domain itself is much interested in abstract theories. We’re interested in the practical consequences of applying the ideology.

I had strong libertarian leanings many years ago. Maybe I was fooling myself, but back then it seemed like libertarianism really did emphasize individual-freedom issues like decriminalizing drugs, defending abortion rights, and resisting the enforcement of religious taboos (homosexuality, etc.) through civil law. Now individual freedom has been relegated to a side issue and libertarianism is just about cutting taxes and gutting the kind of regulatory structure that differentiates us from a Third World country (I don’t deny that some regulations are irrational or ineffective, but libertarianism goes beyond wanting to cut out just those). If you point this out, you’re met with a blizzard of sophistry re-defining freedom in such a way that economic abstractions constitute a greater infringement on it than government efforts to dictate what individuals can and can’t do with their own anatomy do. If you point out that libertarian policies would allow inequality to get even worse, you’re met with more bloodless abstract claims that you shouldn’t object to rising inequality, even if reaches Latin American levels. This is neither persuasive nor appealing to anyone who doesn’t already support the ideology.

Ever since libertarianism allied itself with the Republican party, now dominated by anti-science theocrats, it has de-emphasized those aspects of its ideology which clash with theocracy.

The modern face of libertarianism is people like Ron Paul, who is against abortion and is therefore immediately disqualified as a supporter of individual freedom no matter what else he believes, or Rand Paul, who has objected to the application of desegregation to private businesses. He had solid libertarian grounds for doing so — which discredits libertarianism. A lot of modern libertarians take Ayn Rand seriously, for crying out loud. The fact that liberta- rians continue to tout Ron Paul despite his opposition to abortion shows that individual freedom is no longer their guiding principle.

If libertarians had their way, there would be even less of a social safety net than there is now, and even less constraint on the ability of large private interests like employers to abuse individuals. Under libertarianism, I would have less security and less freedom in a practical sense than I do now. And don’t even get me started on what the open-borders nonsense would lead to. Yes, my taxes would be a lot lower, but that’s of negligible importance by comparison.

It’s not about theory or ideology. It’s about practical real-world consequences. Libertarianism as currently self-defined, with its current leadership, is far too toxic to be a potential ally.

I think I got my point across to at least some extent; if anyone else wants to jump in, just follow the link.

16 Comments:

Blogger LadyAtheist said...

But what about librarians?

07 September, 2011 20:10  
Blogger John Myste said...

Libertarians and Republicans are both conservatives. The main difference is that Republicans tend not to be ashamed of it, no offense to Libertarians.

07 September, 2011 20:37  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

LA: They're not welcome on the right these days. Too innaleckshul.

JM: Well, there are differences, but the libertarians tend to de-emphasize them.

08 September, 2011 06:34  
Blogger okjimm said...

Well said... frankly, Libertarian is a tag that has lost what ever meaning it once had.... like 'hippie'. It is all in our quest to find identity...

08 September, 2011 06:49  
Blogger Grung_e_Gene said...

Ayn Rand and the modern libertarian views are a sort of gnostic capitalism in which the only people who can be called individuals are the Randian Uber-Men. All others are potential parasites and/or can not realize the Randian Gnostic Truth no matter what.

As such, the common man is a nobody in her system, so if governmental laws and regulations must be absolutely destroyed the end result doesn't really affect 'real individuals' anyway...

08 September, 2011 06:55  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

Like you, I found the personal freedoms of Libertarianism attractive. But having worked in social services I find their stance on the social safety net EXTREMELY naive and blogged about this specifically. Being in the "Skeptics Movement" as it were, many of the people who think as I do in this regard are Libertarians, and their views show up in the conferences I attend. Pen Gilette is a big supporter of Libertarians.

My off the cuff remark: Just like I have never met an unemployed Economist, I have never met a poor Libertarian. They are all for "the Market" sorting out success and personal achievement, but there is a whole class of people for whom the Market is out of reach. Some deprivations are indeed self-caused. But seldom, as I found as a Welfare Worker, is there a single cause for deprivation, more often there are multiple barriers to even surviving, let alone being successful. Libertarians need to decided if they want to be stepping over poor and dying people in the streets while on their way to Starbucks.

Besides, how can they gripe against Government??!! Corporations already control our supposedly Democratic institution. Odd that I never hear Libertarians argue against the influence of Lobbyists. I guess they are part of "the Market" as well.

08 September, 2011 11:08  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Okjimm: It certainly seems to have changed drastically in practical meaning since the 80s.

GeG: Like many intellectually-curious people, I went through a phase of taking Ayn Rand seriously. Some people never seem to outgrow that phase. If the world she seems to want could even exist at all, it would be a frightening place.

RtS: Very cogent observations. I suspect an ideology like libertarianism could not arise until society had gotten advanced enough for at least some people to live out their lives fairly insulated from the role random chance plays in the fortunes of most people, and unaware of the vital role society plays in creating the smooth playing field on which they compete.

The tremendous power of some private entities (such as corporations) and the abuses they would be free to engage in without the counterbalancing force of the state, are a big part of my objections. There are entities other than government that can infringe on freedom.

If you look at the exchange at the link, they accused me of making a sweeping dismissal of a straw-man caricature of libertarianism. But it seems that a lot of people perceive libertarianism as I described -- which suggests that, if the description is inaccurate, the problem lies with the way libertarianism presents itself rather than with my perception of it.

08 September, 2011 16:14  
Anonymous Jack said...

Robert the Skeptic, if you are not seeing, hearing, or reading libertarians complain about corporate influence and lobbyists, then you are not even trying to hear us. It is a regular refrain. There are lots of kinds of libertarians. As far as the libertarian influences I count, they would be people like Radley Balko, Jim Henley, Jason Kuzknicki, or Tyler Cowan. If you cant find some common ground with those libertarians, then all hope is indeed lost. Too assume we are all merely conservatives who wont admit it, or Lew Rockwell types is just grossly unfair. Not any more than referring to us all as idiots and fascist enablers, but still.

08 September, 2011 20:50  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jack: The problem may be one of emphasis. How much time and energy do libertarians spend on attacking corporate lobbyists and corporate malfeasance vs the time and energy they spend attacking government regulations and spending?

If you claim that the image we have of libertarianism is inaccurate, then given how widespread that image is, don't you think the problem could be in how libertarianism presents itself rather than in us deliberately misunderstanding it?

09 September, 2011 03:44  
Anonymous Jack said...

Just for starters, and these are just the ones in my daily read, how about Ed Brayton at Dispatches?Jim Henly, though he doesnt blog much anymore, at Unqualified Offerings? Jason K at League of Ordinary Gentelmen? Ken at Popehat? The front page of Reason, far from being dominated by corporate lackey boot lickers, has numerous articles on civil liberties, post 9-11 security theater critiques, several anti-drug war pieces, and OMG an article explicitely criticizing Rick Perry and conservative global warming denialism. Heck Reason dedicated their July issue to Criminal Injustice, focusing on prison reform and abuses in the criminal justice system to top bottom. http://reason.com/issues/july-2011
Are there anti-regulation and dreaded free market articles up there? Of course. Is the framing of the issues the same as liberals would approach it? Of course not. But to look at the front page or Reason and these others and see nothing but deluded effectively conservative corporatism is rather distortive.

09 September, 2011 05:56  
Blogger Jack Jodell said...

You have done an outstanding job of illustrating just why the libertarian stance doesn't cut it with most voters.

09 September, 2011 08:30  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

JJ: Thanks. As I suspected, many liberals seems to have the same view of libertarianism.

Jack: Is Ed Brayton a libertarian? I read him pretty consistently and haven't gotten that impression.

The things you mention are certainly positives, but let me turn the question around -- If libertarians have so many points of agreement with liberals and disagreement with conservatives, why aren't there more signs of a breach with the latter? Why do the Pauls seem to be the only high-profile libertarian politicians? Why don't we see equally-prominent libertarians running as Democrats?

10 September, 2011 02:52  
Anonymous Jack said...

So I list a handful of reasonable, liberal leaning libertarians and point out the strong social efforts from the top tier libertarian organizations, and your response is to ignore all of them, question the the one you occasionally link to as not really libertarian, and then establish a new goal post involving the ultimate rarity within our two party dominated system? Yes, Ed Brayton has self identified as a libertarian, he is very low key about it. Maybe like me, his strong identification with a liberal form of libertarianism makes it difficult to partner with liberals. Maybe his views have changed. But I've been reading him for half a decade, and several times he has mentioned it. Here:
http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ed_Brayton

12 September, 2011 18:54  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jack, read my response again. I was not implying that Brayton isn't a libertarian, I was simply asking the question. I hadn't gotten the impression that he is, and I've never seen him refer to it. I wasn't able to address the other people you mentioned because I've never heard of any of them. I haven't made some sort of deep study of modern libertarianism -- most people don't -- I simply know what I see presented by the prominent people who do self-identify as libertarian, and the scattering of libertarian blogs I sometimes read. But that's the face the ideology is presenting to the world.

12 September, 2011 19:06  
Blogger Dusty,Hells most vocal Bitch said...

I spent half a day looking for this post as I remembered reading it but not where I read it. I read it on my radio show today as I have been having a discussion with a friend about why I refuse to think of Ron Paul as a good choice for the Oval Office and my general dislike of the current Libertarian philosophy.

Thank you SO much for writing it!

Also, enjoy this weekend in the spirit for which it was orginally intended...not the commercial shit we have now! ;-)

24 December, 2011 07:49  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

DHMVB: Thanks! I had more on the topic here, too.

24 December, 2011 09:11  

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